A Florida man who decided to take his wife's last name discovered that the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspected him of fraud as a result. Florida, along with most U.S. states, only provides a simple method for women to change their names upon marriage. A few states, including California, allow spouses of any gender to take the other spouse's name. While a wife taking her husband's name is a longstanding tradition, many couples are finding other options.
According to Reuters, Lazaro Dinh, née Sopena, married Hanh Dinh in 2011. In an "act of love," he decided to take her last name to preserve her family's name. His wife, who is originally from Vietnam, reportedly lived in refugee camps with her sisters, spending seven years separated from their father, before immigrating to the United States in 1990.
After the wedding, Dinh was able to obtain a new driver's license from the Florida DMV by showing his marriage certificate to a clerk and paying a fee. This is the procedure followed by newlywed women all over the country. He also obtained a passport showing his married name. In December 2012, over a year after the wedding, Dinh reportedly received a letter from the DMV, addressed to Lazaro Dinh, that accused him of fraud. It stated that the DMV would suspend his license within weeks.
Dinh called the main DMV office in Tallahassee and spoke to an official who told him he should go through the non-marital name change process. This requires a petition to a court with a $400 filing fee. The DMV official allegedly told Dinh that the marital name change process "only works for women." At a hearing on January 14, the DMV issued a Final Order holding that his license suspension for "fraud" was proper. Dinh is appealing the order, but remains unable to drive.
Florida and about forty other states only expressly allow name changes by women after marriage, without requiring a court petition. Most states also only allow a woman to change her last name to that of her husband. Few states address name changes in a same-sex marriage. The Reuters article says that nine states allow a man to take a spouse’s name.
California enacted the Name Equality Act of 2007, which allows either or both future spouses, when they apply for a marriage license, to designate new middle and/or last names. The new names become official upon marriage. Applicants may change their last name to their spouse’s last name, their spouse’s name at birth, a new name based on some combination of the applicant’s last name and the spouse’s last name, or a hyphenated combination of both spouses’ names. They may elect to change their middle name to the spouse’s current or original last name, or a hyphenated combination of middle and last names. Changes to either spouse’s first name is not available through this process. Any name changes done with “intent to defraud” are invalid. The law took effect January 1, 2009.
San Diego divorce lawyer Thomas Huguenor has represented people finding their way through the California divorce process for more than 35 years. For a free and confidential consultation, contact him today online or at (858) 458-9500.
The Name Equality Act of 2007 (PDF file), California Department of Public Health, January 2010
More Blog Posts:
Name Changes After a California Divorce, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, September 6, 2012
California Bill Would Expand Criteria for Legal Designation as Parent of a Child, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, August 9, 2012
Maryland Court Allows Divorce of Same-Sex California Couple, Does Not Allow Same-Sex Marriage, San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, June 21, 2012